Fear Leads To Spiritual Darkness

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John 12: 37 – 43

37 Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:

 “Lord, who has believed our message
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”

 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:

 40 “He has blinded their eyes
and deadened their hearts,
so they can neither see with their eyes,
nor understand with their hearts,
nor turn–and I would heal them.”

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41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

42 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.

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The passage in John given above is extremely difficult to understand, especially if we are not familiar with the book of Isaiah and the history of the Jews.  John quotes from two passages in Isaiah, and he was very familiar with the history of his people, and how it was necessary for God to punish, or discipline them for their overt disobedience.

Let us look first at what John is saying in verse 37 and 38.  At this point in John’s Gospel, Jesus had been ministering throughout Galilee and Judea for about 3 1/2 years, teaching about the Kingdom of God, and showing the power of God through the mighty miracles He had been performing.  And yet despite how obvious it was that Jesus had come from God and spoke for God, many of the people, especially the religious leaders were unwilling to put their faith in Him.  Out of jealousy and fear of Roman retaliation, they would rather kill Jesus, than believe in Him.

The quotation from verse 38 comes from the first verse of Isaiah chapter 53, which happens to be one of the clearest Old Testament prophecies concerning the coming Messiah and how this Saviour would be rejected and brutally mistreated and finally killed.  This “Suffering Servant” would die in order to free us from our sin and guilt before God and heal our spiritual wounds.  Just as many Jews would not listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah concerning the Messiah to come, so many Jews would not listen to Jesus, who was the Messiah that had finally come for His people.

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This brings us to the next prophecy of Isaiah.  Verse 40 above comes from verse 10 of Isaiah 6, which is considered to be the first vision that Isaiah had from the Lord.  In this vision, the Lord God Almighty, who is all powerful and glorious to behold and completely holy, meaning that there is no sin whatsoever to be found within the nature of God.  And this Holy God called out to Isaiah to prophesy against the nation of Israel which had been very unfaithful and disobedient towards Him, as they had worshipped and trusted in all the false gods of the land.  Instead of being a holy people, they had been a blatantly idolatrous people.

So God could no longer endure such God-less people, and told Isaiah to say in Isaiah 6:9, “You will listen and listen, but never understand.  You will look and look, but never see.”  Then Isaiah went on to say what we have quoted above in John 12:40.  Taken out of context, this verse can almost seem that the spiritual darkness of people is the result of what God has purposefully done to them, as if it is His fault that they are sinners and will be spiritually lost forever.

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I want to challenge this thought this way.  All people have been given free will, and so the choice to follow after God or to sin and reject God is really the decision of the individual.  When God pronounces judgment upon a sinner, it is really God declaring the natural outcome that the person had chosen for themselves.

Jesus gave a powerful parable about a farmer who sowed seed on four different kinds of soil.  You can read this parable in Matthew 13, Mark 4 and Luke 8.  There are many applications to this parable.  What I need to point out here is that there are four kinds of soil, each one representing a different kind of person.  The hard soil is the person under the control of Satan; the soil with shallow ground is the person who may appear to have faith in God, but under pressure will give up their faith.  The soil among the thorns is the one who believes in God but lets the things of life drag them down; the good soil is the person who has an open heart to receive the truths of God.

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This article is being posted on the Internet just a few days after Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  These are the most significant days in a year (after Christmas Day).  People long ago rejected Jesus and killed Him, but three days later He rose from the grave.  Some of the people back then refused to believe in Jesus, while some believed but were afraid to declare this out of fear of what the leaders would do to them.

What about you?  Do you let your fears of what others think hold you back from receiving Jesus into your heart and free you from spiritual darkness and the guilt of sin?  Do you have faith in Jesus, but are still afraid of what others might say or do to you?  Remember this: the power that raised Jesus from the grave is the same power that resides within us who believe in Him.  In Christ, you will always be able to overcome the forces of spiritual darkness.  We are children of the King, and children of Light.  Amen!

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Overcoming Discouragement By Our Faith – Pt. 3

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I ended the last article by saying, “It comes back to whether we really are trusting God to have the full control over our lives or not.”  This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the Christian way of life for many believers today.  Our western culture has taught us how to be “independent”, “self-sufficient” and “successful”, which has at its core the fundamental belief that we can accomplish anything we want to in our own strength if we will put our minds to it.

The problem with this is that we usually leave God out of the situation, until something goes terribly wrong and then we look to God to “fix it”.  No wonder people today are over-worked, stressed out and living with high levels of anxiety, and/or guilt.  Mankind has never been able to control the world around him.  That was certainly true in past centuries, but even in our modern day we can never be fully prepared for the sudden loss of a loved one through death, an abrupt change in our economy, a fractured relationship with someone else we care about, or a myriad of other crises that can hit us at any time.

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It’s at this very point that we ought to be turning to God.  But this doesn’t mean that we are to look to God like He is a giant ‘band-aid” who treats our “owwies” when we feel hurt, or a genie in a bottle that will do anything we ask of him when we rub His magic lamp.  No, we are to come to God and trust that He really is the Author of all we can see, and that just as He takes good care to hold the Universe together, we trust that we can put our lives in His hands, and He will watch over our lives as well.

So when I feel discouraged in life and wonder what it is that I am doing now and what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, I remember the words of Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  Many Christians know this verse and understand that it is as we read the Bible and come to be more familiar with God’s Word that God will help to direct us in our daily lives.  That is exactly right, but there is so much more in this verse.

I’ve had the privilege to work for five years in a remote jungle area of Papua New Guinea.  It was during these years that I really truly understood the words of Psalm 119:05.  There were a number of times that I had to walk down a jungle trail after sunset and only had a small kerosene  oil lamp or a weak flashlight to light the path in front of me.  I literally could only see a few feet ahead of me, and even less could I see behind me.

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Try to imagine what that is like for a minute.  You are absolutely and totally surrounded by pitch black darkness.  If we put our lights or lamps out, I could not see my own hand even if I put it in front of my face.  So that small amount of light from my oil lamp or my mostly dead battery flashlight was my only hope for finding the path forward to take me back to my home village.

Now I could have let my fear of the dark, that fear of the unknown beyond my little cone of light, immobilize me there and stop me dead in my tracks.  All I really knew was that it was safe for about three feet in front of me.  I believed though, that there was a safe passage out there in that darkness ahead, even though I could not see it.  So what did I do?  I took one step forward.

And guess what I saw?  As I took a step forward, I was able to see a couple more feet in front of me.  It wasn’t much, but it was just enough to keep me safe from making a step in the wrong direction.  And every time I kept taking one step forward, I saw more of the path in front of me and the closer I knew I would be to my destination.

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That I believe is how we are to manage the decisions in our lives.  We are not God, and will never be able to see the “whole picture”.  But we almost always know and can see just enough ahead, that we can dare to take a step forward in one direction.  Psalm 119:105 tells us that it is God’s Word that will help reveal to us what steps and what direction to take.

Therefore, it is an act of faith for us to put our lives into God’s hands, trusting that He will guide us step-by-step that will help us to overcome the obstacles of life and to find the direction we need as we make our choices in life.  But remember too, that it is as we read and study God’s Word that we can best get our bearings in life and be steered clearly in making good and wise choices.

In further articles, I would like to share with you some of the decisions and cross-roads that I encountered as I grew up.  I can’t say that I always made the best decision.  But no decision can sometimes be worse than a bad decision.  At least we can try to learn something after making a bad decision.  Keep reading these articles then and see how my faith in God and my life decisions all turned out.  See you in the next article of this series.

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The Lord Will Get Me To Papua New Guinea

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We Make Plans – God Has Different Plans

I felt so sure that once I got on the plane in Calgary, that everything would go smoothly until I reached my destination of Madang, Papua New Guinea.  Who would have guessed that a) the flight crew were late coming in from Vancouver to start up our plane; b) that a snow storm would happen the moment we sat down in the plane (which meant a delay of de-icing), and c) more unusual (actually weird) was the fact that the flight attendants could not agree for 45 minutes whether there were 81 or 82 passengers on the plane (that delayed us at least 45 minutes)

So… I missed my connection to the Qantas long flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane, Australia.  Suddenly I was faced with making rapid changes and new arrangements to get new flights and some lodgings booked in both Brisbane and Cairns down under.  I have to admit that I let the situation get the best of me for a while as I complained, and then worried about how this would all get worked out.  I took my eyes off of Jesus for a short while, and I found fear and anxiety replaced my normal peace of God in my heart.

There are a number of things that I have realized, now that I have time to reflect on all that happened.  I hope I can express well in words what I want to pass on to others of how we who are Christians can better handle difficult situations that can confront us in life.  Let’s look then at how I did react, and how I could have reacted to the situation.

Takeoff

When I first booked all my flights, to get me from Canada to Papua New Guinea, one of my first concerns was to try to save money.  Now there is nothing wrong with being wise stewards of our money.  Jesus gave many teachings and illustrations on this topic.  But I added some pride and self-reliance along with my sense of “frugality”.

It is true that my health has been much better in the past six months, and this in part led me to think that I could do the 30 hour trip from Calgary to Port Moresby, PNG in one long day of traveling.  I realize now that I was kind of proud of myself that I was going to do the long haul on my new found strength, and had not really asked the Lord about the wisdom of this.

And then, as we sat and waited and waited on the plane in Calgary, ready for take-off, I found I got more and more anxious about the possibility of missing my next plane.  “All my efforts of my planning and scheduling will get ruined,” I thought.  We did make it to Los Angeles, but with all the effort of people getting me my wheelchair assistance from one terminal to the other, I arrived 15 minutes after they closed the check-in desk, even though the plane had not left yet.

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So it was when I finally recognized that I was trying so hard to make my plans and solve this crisis in my own strength that I gave the situation over to the Lord.  And then things actually did start to fall into place. I was going to be okay from LA to Brisbane as Qantas just switched my ticket to the next night.  And I was able to book my Australia to PNG flights with air miles, so that I paid only 1/10th of what a new ticket would cost.  And with Jill’s help, I was able to get bookings as two nice hotels in Brisbane and then Cairns.

The neatest part was that some good friends from a very long time ago heard about my situation and they emailed me to let me know they could pick me up at the airport in Brisbane and take care of me for a few hours until I could check in at the hotel.  That was very special, seeing as I might have had to wait four hours in the hotel lobby until I got a room.

Better yet, we spent those few hours together sharing wonderful stories of how God has taken care of us all over the years.  And we shared testimonies of how God has worked through us all to bless other people.  What a special time of sharing that was for me, and for them too they told me.

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So now a few questions.  Did God create the crisis as a penalty for my independence from Him?  I don’t accept that one as that makes God to be a God who punishes people if they step out of line just a little bit.  Did Satan and his forces of evil send this “attack” against me?  No, I doubt it.  But he certainly could be behind me taking my eyes off of Jesus.

Was I supposed to learn something from the situation?  Very probably.  Or at least I would hope I learn from each situation in life.  I do know that God promises us peace in the midst of storms.  (And I was forgetting that.)  And He promises to bring good out of every situation.  (That came true as I spent a wonderful day with dear Christian friends in Brisbane that would not have happened if this crisis had not happened.)

There is more I could say, but this gives you an idea of how my last couple of days have gone.  More importantly, it tells you that I am doing okay and God is taking care of me and the various details of rearranging my trip to PNG.  As Scriptures says, I made plans, but God had better plans.

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Be Prepared For Jesus’ Return

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A Devotional Thought from Great Commission Ministries

written last winter by Sharon Harms

Be Prepared

The National Weather Service has issued an ‘Ice Storm Warning’ for our area. They are telling people to have a winter survival kit in your car if you have to travel, and enough food and water in the house in case of power outages. We have well water, so having containers of water is very important for us to have if we lose power. No electricity means no pump, no pump means no water.

Like us, people have filled water containers at the artesian well. And, I am certain some have been at the store buying batteries, milk and food. They have been making preparations for the ¼ to ½ an inch of ice.

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I want to pause Sharon’s devotional thought to add an experience Jill and I had while we were in Texas in 1988.  Just like Sharon’s experience, there was a massive storm coming, and people were scrambling to make preparations for the storm.  The main difference between the ice storm mentioned above, was that this was a Category 5 hurricane named Gilbert that was bearing down on Texas.

At that time, Jill was a nurse in one of the hospitals of Beaumont, Texas.  I was working at planting a new church in the city.  (More about that in a couple of weeks from now.)  Like most people, we were watching the news and keeping an eye on the weather as this storm front was gathering its strength in the Atlantic and starting to head into the Gulf of Mexico.

Up to this point of living there for one year, we had seen a few very nasty storms, and had come close to being near a tornado touch down.  But this hurricane was going to dwarf all those experiences.  We knew that it was very serious when the hospital called Jill in to work (along with a lot more doctors and nurses) and was told that they may have to stay and sleep at the hospital for up to three days if the brunt of the hurricane hit our area.

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Meanwhile, I went around and visited the people of our fledging church, as well as tried to visit a number of other people with whom our church had previously had some contact.  Many said they appreciated my call, and definitely would appreciate my prayers for them and their families.  But for the most part, many of them had to excuse themselves while they went and made preparations for the storm.

Now I had never experienced a hurricane before, so I didn’t know what to do or what to expect.  I turned on the radio and listened to all the local news I could.  Even though the weather was still warm and calm, reports were already coming in that there was a critical shortage of plywood, generators and other emergency supplies.  And there were long line ups at gas stations.

But I think I got a better understanding of the degree of panic and impending doom when I went to the local grocery store.  It looked like people were calmly doing their shopping.  But I stood there transfixed as I saw some people calmly reach their arms out on to the shelves and push huge piles of canned food and other items into their grocery carts.  The shelves were literally becoming empty.

The people were afraid, and they were doing all they could do to prepare for the worst.  Now let’s pick up again on Sharon’s devotional thought.

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What kind of preparations are we making for Jesus’ second coming? Are we standing around looking up into the sky for Him? Or are we working for Him? After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to the disciples and gave them the ‘Great Commission’:

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20

These verses plainly tell us that we are supposed to teach others about Jesus, whether it is next door or in another country. It is not an option, but a command to all who call Jesus, ‘Lord’. We are not evangelists in the formal sense, but we have all received gifts that we can use to help fulfill the Great Commission. And as we obey this command, we have comfort in the knowledge that Jesus is always with us.

Jesus also taught about remaining watchful in Matthew 24:36-51:

(v. 36) “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (v. 44) So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

It is good that we don’t know exactly when Christ will return. If we knew the precise date, we might be tempted to be lazy in our work for Christ. Worse yet, we might plan to keep sinning and then turn to God right at the end. Heaven is not our only goal; we have work to do here.

So while we wait for that glorious day of our Savior’s return, prepare to be working for Him. He has given us a job to do – to teach others about Him.

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